Computer software sales and management expert Henry Chan, who sits on theDesk’s advisory board, chats to us ahead of our ‘Meet the Advisors’ event
Some business leaders stay at one company for their entire career, building it up from nothing and creating a success story. Others move from firm to firm throughout their life, creating successes and failures and learning an incredible amount about business along the way. Henry Chan sits firmly in the latter category. He’s worked in computer software sales and management in a raft of companies and he admits he’s gained a ton of experience throughout his career as a result. And now the 67-year-old is passing on his knowledge and skills to young people and startup entrepreneurs in Hong Kong.
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Henry Chan sits on the advisory board at theDesk co-working and events space in Sai Wan and he helps our members who want advice on sales, management and computer software. Ahead of a special ‘Meet the Advisors’ event that we’re holding in our space on Monday May 15 for the entire Sai Ying Pun, Sai Wan and Kennedy Town neighbourhoods, Chan tells us why he loves helping young entrepreneurs. “The young people who are starting up or working in business in Hong Kong,” he says, “are the future of this city. I have a lot of experience over my career and I just think it’s important to help younger people out when they have good ideas and work hard.”
Chan was born in Taishan in mainland China but moved to Hong Kong as a baby as his father and grandfather ran an import-export business here. He grew up in North Point and became a maths teacher at a local school for 12 years after he left school himself, however, aged 30, he finally decided to go to university, so he headed for Canada. He attended the University of Waterloo, not far from Toronto, and gained a maths degree, specialising in computer science.
In 1982, Chan returned to Hong Kong and then headed for Beijing, where he started a job as a computer salesman representing a computer systems company which was based in Boston, USA. This was Wang Laboratories. He was there for a year-and-a-half before then working for Computervision, a computer-aided design and manufacturing company which was actually behind the design of our own SAR’s Big Buddha attraction. He worked his way up to head of China for sales and stayed at the firm for eight years.
Chan came back to Hong Kong as he’d landed a job at Prime Computer, also based in Boston, which had bought out Computervision. He became head of sales for Hong Kong for Prime Computervision. He had a daughter by now. Soon he moved to Oracle Corporation as head of sales for Hong Kong and then, after two years, Chan became head of sales for Hong Kong and China for Stratus Technologies, however he admits that firm’s ‘business model was not well designed’ and ‘could not keep up with the market’ so he left after three years.
After being approached by a headhunter, Chan then moved to Powersoft, a maker of development tools for client-server computing, as head of sales for Greater China and Taiwan. The firm was then acquired by Sybase but Chan decided to move to Cadence, an electronic design automation company run by his former boss from Computervision, where he became head of sales for China and Hong Kong. He left after two years to start a new company with a group of friends who had all worked at Oracle together. Century A brought software from the USA’s Silicon Valley to the Asia Pacific region and was a success for a while but disbanded after two years. Chan quotes Stanley Ho: “It’s easy to find a good wife but not easy to find a good business partner.”
After leaving Century A, Chan formed Asian Pacific Technology with some other friends. This firm installed and connected computer systems in Hong Kong and it ran for more than three years before closing as Chan moved to Global Technology Integrator, an IT solutions company, where he was head of application development. He re-engineered the business and rebuilded the team. He also helped GTI to buy information management solutions firm ParaDM, a subsidiary he went on to manage. One project included helping the government to re-centralise its graphics data for housing projects to just one location. The Housing Authority pilot scheme cost $9 million. The entire project cost $60 million. Chan was there for six years and is proud that he ‘turned ParaDM from a negative company to a profitable one’.
Yes, after all that, Chan finally took a short break in 2014 before forming TCC Consulting with two young friends by the name of Tsang and Chan. They’re all software business consultants and he’s still there now. “These are two young guys,” says Chan, “and I love to help them. They’re really energetic. The atmosphere in Hong Kong has changed over the past few years, with so many more people willing to launch startups than working at large companies. My job at TCC is to open the door for these two guys and give them advice and direction. They do all the technical work and deal with people, though.”
TCC, which has five staff members and is based in Tsim Sha Tsui, partners with Red Hat, an American multinational software company providing open-source software products to the enterprise community. It’s in ‘phase one’ at the moment with ‘phase two’ on the way where the company is hoping to actually make its own open-source software products, ‘filling in any holes’ that Red Hat can’t give customers. It’s also looking into healthcare management, with the possibility of creating a system that manages your health and alerts you if there’s anything wrong with you. “The reason why I’m in this company,” says Chan, “is that I’m interested in helping young people. As you can see, I have years of experience and I really enjoy passing that on.”
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Chan may have worked in a lot of companies but he says that’s not down to choice. “I was quite lucky when I entered the computer industry in early 80s,” he says. “The fast-growing mini-computer technology showed a beautiful picture of computers and related businesses and, later on, the strong growth of personal computers created the next big wave. But it also generated a very tough environment for all computer companies, with everyone facing the big issue of survival. Quite a number of companies I used to work for no longer exist in the market today, like Wang Laboratories, Computervision, Prime, Powersoft and Century A. I’m not an opportunist but I had no choice other than to follow the market changes for my career development.”
Chan, who is an adjunct professor for Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Sai Kung, says: “I am getting closer to young people all the time. It goes back to when I started university in Canada and I was 10 years older than some of my classmates. I was a former maths teacher and I used to like helping them with their problems. It’s no different now and that’s why I’m on theDesk’s advisory board, so I can help young people and startup businesses with their problems.”
“I think theDesk,” continues Chan, “has a great idea when it comes to building a local community in Sai Ying Pun, Sai Wan and Kennedy Town. I want to help any young business leaders in this neighbourhood as I’m able to share my experiences from my past, particularly when it comes to starting a company. I’ve succeeded and I’ve failed. I have a lot of knowledge because of that. Plus, I believe Hong Kong has a bright future with an economy driven by IT and hopefully I can contribute to that in some way.”
Henry Chan, in brief:
NAME: Henry Chan
BUSINESS: Partner at TCC Consulting, advisor at theDesk
FROM: Hong Kong
BUSINESS LOCATION: Tsim Sha Tsui
FIND OUT MORE: Contact us at theDesk and we’ll hook you up with him or come to our…
SPECIAL EVENT: ‘Meet the advisors’
If you want to learn more from Henry Chan and our advisory board at theDesk, then come to our special event on Monday May 15, between 7pm and 9pm. Anyone can come along, as long as you RSVP. And it’s totally free! Hear from our panel of experts in law, finance, management, sales, academics, IT and marketing, who have countless years of experience in their fields and are willing to give out advice not only to members of theDesk but to any business or resident who is based in Sai Ying Pun, Sai Wan and Kennedy Town and wants to come along to our event. Limited spaces available so RSVP at meettheadvisors.eventbrite.hk as soon as possible. See you there!